Unique labour relations issues often arise in connection with
large scale construction projects. One way in which these
challenges can be addressed is through the use of a Project Labour
Agreement (or "PLA"). PLA's can be used to address
labour issues, establish cost standards and keep construction
contracts on track by avoiding costly work stoppages. Recently, we
have seen an increased interest in the use of PLA's,
particularly in construction in British Columbia's liquid
natural gas industry.
Generally speaking, a PLA is an agreement between the
owner/developer (or a subsidiary or group of contractors) of a
specific construction project and the various trade unions that
will perform that construction work. The PLA typically governs all
of the working conditions for a specific construction project. In
most cases, the terms of the PLA will apply to all contractors and
subcontractors working on the project (regardless of whether or not
they are union or non-union), and the PLA will supersede any
existing collective agreements or terms and conditions of
employment which otherwise exist. In this way, the PLA creates a
"level playing field" between union and non-union
contractors. For example, wages and benefits are generally the same
for all contractors working under a PLA, regardless of what union
relationships or employment conditions would apply to that
contractor outside the project. Often, workers are obtained through
union hiring halls or a combination of hiring halls and outside
A PLA typically includes provisions prohibiting any strikes,
lockouts, or other work stoppages for the length of the project. By
incorporating such terms, a PLA can provide labour stability for
the duration of the particular construction project. However, that
stability often comes at an increased cost, as working conditions
and wage rates tend to be the same for all employees working on the
project and therefore contractors must include those costs in their
Because the terms of the PLA are project specific, it was
generally thought that non-union contractors working under a PLA
could not be certified in respect of work being done outside of the
project. A recent decision of the B.C. Labour Relations Board
appears to confirm that view. The issue was considered in the
recent decision of the Kitimat Modernization Employer Association
-and- Sarens Canada Inc. -and- DL Baker Construction Canada ULC
-and- International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental
and Reinforcing Iron Workers, Local No. 97. 1 That case
involved a PLA which governed the project to modernize an aluminum
smelter located in Kitimat, B.C.
One of the unions representing ironworkers on the project under
the PLA brought an application to certify two subcontractors
working on the project. The union's application was not limited
to employees working on the project, but rather, the union applied
to represent all of the subcontractors' employees within the
province of British Columbia.
The Board found the unit being applied for was not appropriate.
In reaching this conclusion, the Board found that the PLA
established a single multi-employer, multi-union unit which covered
all employees working on the project. The Board concluded that it
would not be appropriate to carve out a smaller bargaining unit
from the unit established under the PLA. That decision was upheld
by the Board on reconsideration. The union has applied for judicial
review of this decision however, the matter has not yet been set
for hearing. BLG represented one of the subcontractors before the
Labour Relations Board and will be representing that subcontractor
in defending the application for judicial review.
This case highlights two important considerations: Owners and
contractors involved in these types of large projects should
carefully consider the pros and cons of using a PLA model versus
traditional construction labour relation structures. Many factors
will need consideration in making that important decision. If a PLA
model is chosen, the terms of the PLA and related organization and
documents must be carefully crafted in order to minimize the risk
of labour relations complications and litigation.
Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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